Back at the turn of the year, SkyBet rated Derby County head coach and former England boss, Steve McClaren, at 16/1 to take over at Newcastle United this summer. When Alan Pardew decamped to Crystal Palace to be the South London club’s second coming of Tony Pulis, it left a gap at St James Park that John Carver, for all his earnest endevours, never looked likely to fill in the long term. Other betting sites had MacClaren as far out as 22/1 to become the Magpies’ boss. If you took those odds you may well be sitting in the pound seats now, as currently, some bookies make the former Wembley umbrella salesman as short as 4/6.
Sam Rush, the Rams’ chief executive, is far from accepting any departure as inevitable however, taking solace in a contract only signed last August, and – at least in public – appears convinced that McClaren is going nowhere any time soon. Quoted in the Derby Chronicle, Rush commented that “The position from Steve has been very consistent. He was only three or four months into his new contract when the speculation first came out, and he dismissed it then. From my point of view, I think Derby County is an incredibly exciting football club. I can’t think of anywhere anyone would rather be especially given the start of the building programme Steve has undertaken and how well he has done. We are very much focusing on the next seven games, but we have also got lots of plans ahead. Whichever league we are in next season, it is an exciting time for Derby County and we are looking forward to the future very much.” The problem for the club is however couched in that last sentence.
Should Derby gain promotion to the Premier League, it would be in a much stronger position with regard to keeping McClaren at the iPro Stadium, but recent results have brought that scenario into question, and the club now lies five points from adrift of top two automatic promotion places and until the 0-2 victory at relegation-haunted Wigan Athletic on Monday, had taken a mere three points from the last possible 21. It’s hardly the form of a team arriving at the play-offs with a storm of momentum propelling them through the lottery of end-of-season games.
There has been speculation that Newcastle will need to pay compensation in the region of £2million to prise McClaren away from the East Midlands, should Mike Ashley decide that the 53 year-old is the man he wants at the helm of his club. For all the odds and rumours, that may well be a stumbling block for the ever cash-conscious Ashley. Such reticence may be cold-comfort for Derby however, if McClaren feels his time is up at the club.
Failure to gain promotion may well bring an exodus of the Derby’s top players, and if that happens, McClaren may well feel that there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy on the way, as promotion will only become a more difficult and distant aspiration. The club backed MacLaren in the summer and rebuffed bids for Richard Keogh and Craig Bryson, and this may well have been contributory to MacLaren signing the new contract in return. A failure to gain promotion will only bring renewed bids however, with players a further year into their contracts, and young stars such as Will Hughes may well be tempted by the lure of more money and top level football.
Should Derby’s promotion bid eventually fall short, would McClaren seek to move on? Back in March, as alluded to by Sam Rush, he was happy to dismiss such talk. Following a 2-0 victory over Leeds United, he described the rumours as typical talk for “the speculation season,” insisting his sole focus was on Derby County. “As normal in these situations, anyone who is doing well finds his name mentioned. It’s the same for Eddie Howe at Bournemouth.” The problem is of course that Howe looks likely to be in the Premier League next season. Such a prospect appears some way off for McClaren, should he stay at the iPro.
After his turbulent time with England, McClaren went through a rehabilitation period in Holland and Germany to rebuild his career and reputation. A brief and unsuccessful period at Nottingham Forest may have set him back, but Derby County’s success has brought him back to prominence and the brink of a return to the big time. If Derby fall short of promotion, the thought must surely enter MacClaren’s head as to if a big offer come along should he take it? The question in his mind may well be how many other options will he get if he passes on this one.